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Thursday, 29 May 2014



This morning, I am picking up a school Hockey team and taking them to Valkenburg. Apart from the stupidly early start, it should be an easy day.

I was in position at the school at 5:30am to load and leave at 6. I have 16 girls on with 3 female teachers so it will be nice to do an all girl tour for a change. Everyone arrived in good time, although zombiefied, and we were ready to leave, 15 mins early. I introduced myself and told the girls about the competition I would be running each day where whoever has the most mess around their seat at the end of the day wins the prize of cleaning the whole coach! They were horrified! The only thing they liked about it was that the teachers were also entered into this competition!

So by 5:45am we were away. We were booked on a ferry from Dover to Calais at 11:10 but I was hoping we could make the earlier one. The motorway was quiet this morning being Sunday of bank holiday weekend and we sailed down to clacketts lane services for a quick 20min stop where 2 of our coaches turned up behind me. We have 7 coaches going out to Euro Disney today so I expected to see some of them. 

We carried on for port. The girls started to wake up a bit when they could see the sea and when the port came into view they got really excited. The girls are aged between 11 and 14 and for most, it's their first time away from home without their parents. We checked in at port at 9:40am where we were given a space on the 10:15am ferry. So by the time we had driven around to our lane we only had to wait a few minutes before we were loaded onto the ferry. I had finished my breakfast before we set sail and I spent the rest of the crossing asleep on the table!

So far so good. 

My group couldn't find their way back to the coach and we were pretty much last off the ferry, but we were an hour ahead of schedule so now I could relax a little. The rest of the journey was just as easy. The roadworks around the Gent interchange which had been causing so many tailbacks was now finished and in just under 2hrs we had made it to services just before the Brussels ring road. We had a good break of 45mins. There was a big grass area with a few swings and monkey bars where the girls loosed some energy in the sun. The weather was quite different now to when we left the school in the pouring rain this morning. The sun was shining and it was about 23 C.

We set off on the final leg of the journey and arrived at the hotel at 1730 local time. One hour early. We are staying at the Hotel Schaepkens van St Fijt (don't ask me to pronounce that) in Valkenburg. The hotel is very close to the station and an easy walk to the town centre. I have a nice room with a good view on the top floor, quiet and away from the girls!

We had a very nice buffet dinner with a lot of choice. It wasn't easy though to get a glass of wine! They have a very strange system in place for buying drinks which I've not come across before. You have to buy tokens from reception and exchange tokens for a drink. If you don't have tokens you can't have a drink. You can't even book a drink to your room! We managed to confuse the young waiter whilst confusing ourselves and I ended up getting my tokens and a glass of wine, but no one has taken my tokens so I assume that was a freebie! 

After we'd finished eating another waitress appeared and was asking about where we've come from and the purpose of our trip. She was interested to hear about our hockey match against a local team and she bet me a drink that the Dutch would win. I've not seen these girls play but I've got to support the English team! So we shook on it and the pressure is on! 

After dinner I moved into the bar to see that the summer special was Kriek! My favourite! So I ordered a glass. I was served by the same waitress and she gave me this drink for free with a bowl of cheesey nibbles. She made the teachers pay and didn't give them any snacks. I think she fancies me!

The girls had been given an hour free time before meeting up again. The teachers had prepared a quiz for them and they were being presented with their new team hockey shirts. They were also doing a Britain's Got Talent type thing to come up with a team chant to be used on the pitch. I was one of the judges along with the teachers and had been introduced as Ninja Nina. That has now stuck. So pleased! The chant which has been chosen was the only one which was actually a chant and could be used on the pitch. However, I personally think it is unsuitable considering we are in Holland. The chant goes like this:

2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate?
Not the King, not the Queen, but the TG Hockey Team!

Holland is a very patriotic country with high respect for their monarchy. They have King's day and Queen's day. To say in a chant that we don't appreciate the king and queen could potentially cause offence. I hope it doesn't, after all it's come from the girls who don't seem to have any awareness of the culture of the Dutch. I'd have expected the teachers to know though and maybe explain to the girls how this could be inappropriate. At least I can run away if it's not received well, but I'm sure it will be fine!

Once all the shirts had been given out I went off to bed. I was feeling sleepy now and in need of some rest.


There was plenty of choice again this morning at breakfast and lots of strong hot coffee. The girls found some boxes of different flavoured sprinkles which you put onto bread and put it through the toaster. DIY chocolate spread. It looked revolting!

This morning, the girls are having a 2hr hockey training session with a Dutch coach, just down the road in Maastricht. The rep, Yos, turned up just before 9am and said "you follow me in my car to the facility"! That was the only words he spoke to me! 

He took us the long way round but we got there eventually! I couldn't park where I had dropped the girls. I'd have liked to have a look at the centre of Maastricht but I couldn't park close enough to that either and I only had a short amount of time, so I didn't get to see it.

The girls had had a successful training session and the teachers and the coach were very impressed with them. I picked them up and we went straight to the supermarket to stock up on water as the hotel will not even serve us jugs of tap water with meals! We then went back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before having the afternoon free in Valkenburg.

Valkenburg aan de Geul is a small municipality that has been a major tourist attraction for a long time. People come to visit the mines and caverns with drawings dating back to Roman times, and the castle of Valkenburg from which you can enjoy the wonderful landscape.

There is much to see and do in and around Valkenburg. There are two theme parks, Familypark Valkenier and het Sprookjesbos (enchanted forest), a cable car and toboggan run, underground marlstone caverns and museums, the highest castle ruins in the Netherlands, spa and wellness facilities, a casino, cycling tours aboveground and underground (in the mines), restaurants, nightlife, castles, green parks and extensive nature reserves.

Valkenburg Castle is the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands, situated on a little hill in the town. The first castle was build there in the 12th century and like most castles it was destroyed and reconstructed several times. Today it's ruined, but there's enough left so that it's interesting to visit! I found interesting that there once was a hexadecagonal tower, which was later replaced by a decagonal tower, rather unusual constructions. You'll only see a few remainders of them. There are several plates with explanations in Dutch and English, really well done.

At 5:30pm we were leaving the hotel to travel the short journey to Meersen for our hockey match. We arrived and met the coach of the opposition and were pointed in the direction of our team changing rooms. I stayed outside and watched some of the training sessions which were going on. We were playing at a very large, quite newly built sports complex. There were 4 tennis courts, 2 full size football pitches, 2 full size rugby pitches, 2 full size hockey pitches and an 18 hole golf course and everyone cycled to get there with their equipment on their backs! It was a very impressive place and it was apparent that the Dutch took their sport seriously.

While the girls were having their team talk, the heavens opened and there was a thunder and lightening storm. The start of the match was postponed until the thunder and lightening had passed. Eventually, half an hour late, both teams went out onto the pitch to warm up. The teachers didn't hold out much hope of their girls winning and I think the girls picked up on that before they started. It was a shame because there were some good players who really stood out from the crowd and there didn't appear to be a weak player on the team. But none of them really went out with that fighting spirit that they were going to win the match.

The girls were all rotated on and off the pitch throughout the match to give each girl an equal amount of time on the pitch and there was no favouritism towards the better players so all the girls had the opportunity of a good match experience.

The girls improved as they got more into the match but by half time when they were 10-0 down they we're starting to get quite disheartened. A good team talk at half time lifted their spirits and they played better in the second half with more scoring opportunities and more possession of the ball. Unfortunately, they didn't score and the final score was 13-0. They were all exhausted.

We left soon after the end of the match for our hotel. We were half an hour late for dinner. It was another very nice meal and the girls were obviously hungry because there wasn't the fussiness about food that we'd had the night before.

The girls had a bit of free time before lights out and the teachers joined me in the bar. I tried to buy the waitress a drink because I had lost our bet. She took my tokens but kept my glass full all night! More free drinks! It was about 11:30 when I finally went to bed.

Day 3

Plenty for breakfast again this morning and we would be needing it to keep our energy levels up for the day ahead, myself included.

We set off before 9am and drove across the boarder to Bruhl in Germany. It was pouring with rain. On the motorway, I was taken off by the German Police with their "customs, follow me" sign in the back window. I knew that my vehicle and paperwork were all in order and so there was nothing to worry about. The Police checked my passport and all my legal vehicle documents and sent us on our way. At 10am we arrived at Phantasialand Theme Park.
I'd not been to this theme park before and I was quite looking forward to it. The park was very quiet and there was no more than a 5 minute wait for any ride. The only downside was that it didn't stop raining all day. Once we were inside the park it was decided that we would all go on the Colorado Adventure as a group.

That was just about my limit! It was good to see the reactions of the girls after going on the rides though. The big ride here is the Black Mamba.

All the girls went on this several times and towards the end of the day they managed to drag on one of the teachers who was not very keen. A bit of peer pressure and she was on her way without the option of backing out! When she got off the ride she was definitely a funny colour, her voice had gone from screaming so hard, she had the shakes and jelly knees. Everyone found it hilarious!

This theme park claims to have the worlds longest log flume and has a 52 degree drop.

There are also river rapids which are slightly different to what I've seen before. You get in your raft as it's on the turntable, it moves out onto the water and then onto rollers to take you up a short way before putting you in a lift. When you come out, you're quite high up and there is a big whirlpool. The raft goes round in a spiral and down log flume type drops as well as white water rapids and you get drenched!


Getting on towards the end of the day we were all soaked through from the rain so this was when we chose to go on these water rides. They were both great. We had all brought a change of clothes so once we were warm and dry again we got on the coach for the journey back to Valkenburg. They all slept on the way back. They'd enjoyed a really good day.

After another tasty meal and more free wine there was an awards evening for the girls. Each girl was awarded with a certificate for anything from most accident prone to player of the tour. The girls were sent upstairs and I had another evening of free wine in the bar with the teachers.

Day 4

I had a lie in this morning. I was out at the coach at 8:45am for the girls to load their luggage before they went back into Valkenburg for a couple of hours for shopping. I had breakfast after I'd put the luggage on and had a lazy morning.

We left the hotel at 11am and the teachers mentioned to me that some of the girls had received worried texts from their parents because there are riots in Calais. Basically, since the National Front party were voted in in the European elections, they had been into the migrant camps in Calais and given them notice to leave before the camps were to be bulldozed. Only 30% of the migrants moved on. The National Front had moved in this morning to clear the camps which had sparked riots. I advised the teachers to post on the twitter account that we would not be stopping within 100km of Calais and that we were driving straight into port and not to worry.

We had a brief stop at motorway services and our second stop was at P&J's Chocolate Factory just outside of Oostende, Belgium.

The girls and the teachers alike loved it here. There were boxes of chocolates opened for us to have free samples and I should think they did very well out of the girls!

Everyone got back on the coach and I took the teacher with me to do the usual checks for clandestines before starting our final leg for Calais. I was talking to the teacher about procedures at passport control and I said I was expecting the Boarder Control Agency to be extra thorough today with all of the events unfolding. That's when the girls started to ask questions. It was becoming aparent that they too were worried about what we may be driving into. So after a little explanationary chat, which had been left to me, we were on our way with the girls knowing there was nothing to be worried about and they weren't going to get killed!

I've been doing this job for 7 years and I regularly cross the water to Europe and I have never seen anyone at the French passport control office. They were there today. It just meant that passports had to be scanned by the French and the British before getting back on the coach and checking in. We got onto our booked ferry which sailed at 1715. We had a short break at motorway services and were due to arrive at school at 10pm. 

We were doing really well until we were an hour from home and the motorway gantry signs started flashing up that the motorway was closed. There were cows on the road! Luckily, I'd had a phone call from my traffic office to warn me of the problem and advised finding an alternative route. Which I did. I was surprised to not hit traffic behind every one else trying to skip around the problem but it was clear, so we arrived at school just 10 mins late. Not bad considering we'd driven through 4 countries today!

The girls thanked me with a card and a bottle of wine. The card is quite amusing with comments like 'thank you for not crashing and killing us all!'

I've really enjoyed this trip and I hope they request for me to drive them again next year.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Hampshire Delights

Day 1

Well, what can I say! After a few exciting continental tours it was a bit of a come down to see that my next tour was 5 days in Basingstoke. Not a holiday destination which springs to mind! The good thing about touring so close to home, is no ridiculously early start on the first day. I am working with my good friend Lorraine as courier, which I'm looking forward to. 

Our first passenger meeting point today was, as usual, at our depot. We left at 10am to meet our next group of passengers in Stratford upon Avon before heading off down the Fosse Way for our coffee stop at Stow on the Wold.
The Fosse Way was a Roman road in England that linked  Exeter in South West England to Lincoln  in Lincolnshire, via Ilchester, Bath, Cirencester and Leicester. The word Fosse is derived from the Latin fossa, meaning ditch. For the first few decades after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain. It is possible that the road began as a defensive ditch that was later filled in and converted into a road, or possibly a defensive ditch ran alongside the road for at least some of its length.

It is remarkable for its extremely direct route: from Lincoln to Ilchester in Somerset, a distance of 182 miles (293 km), it is never more than 6 miles (10 km) from a straight line.

We arrived at Stow on the Wold at 11am where we were stopping for an hour for a coffee and a mooch around this pretty little market town in the Cotswolds.

Stow-on-the-Wold is situated in the north Cotswolds, all roads seem to lead to the hill-top town of Stow and it has been that way for a long time - the ancient Jurassic Way and the Salt Way met here and an Iron Age fort was built c.700 BC. The Roman Fosse Way from Cirencester to Leicester passes through Stow, although the town is mostly off to one side, reflecting its establishment as another of the planned market towns for which the Cotswolds is renowned. Because it is off the main road, the town square is large and impressive (it has known markets with over 20,000 sheep crowded there), with various houses, shops and inns around the edge, all built in the local stone. The medieval cross is a reminder of the market's heyday - placed to encourage traders to do business fairly under the sight of God. Stow had a special importance in the English Civil War; it was close by, at Donnington, that the last battle was fought in March 1646. St Edward's Church in the town centre was used as a prison for the defeated Royalist troops. At nearly 800ft, Stow is the highest of the Cotswold towns, approached uphill from all directions with beautiful avenues of trees on some of the approaches. These days Stow is famous as a centre for the antiques trade.

We have a select group of just 24 people this week and it wasn't until I picked them up in Stow that I realised just how many familiar faces there were on board. I'm sure that one lady who is with us, had me as her driver on the first trip she ever did with our company to Harrogate and I miscounted before leaving and left her behind! I will ask if is was her before the end of the tour!

From Stow, we travelled the short but pretty route to Burford, another Cotswold town, where we were having free time to find lunch.

Approached from London and the east, Burford's steep main street leading down to the medieval bridge over the River Windrush provides the first typically Cotswold scene for many visitors. And it's an impressive welcome to the area - the town presents some of its best 17th and 18th century frontages to the High Street, with earlier buildings often visible through atmospheric alleyways and courtyards. Burford is well placed for exploring the Cotswolds and is another renowned centre for the antiques trade.

We stayed here for a couple of hours. The weather was beautiful and this was a lovely place to spend some time. We left at 2pm and travelled the scenic route, avoiding all motorways and major A roads, to our hotel.

For the next 4 nights we are staying at the Basingstoke Country Hotel. Retaining the charm and character of a country hotel, the Basingstoke Country Hotel has 100 air-conditioned and spacious bedrooms including 12 premium rooms and 8 deluxe.  All rooms offer Wifi access and lovely views of the surrounding Woodland or interior Courtyard.  The hotel also boasts a super Health and Leisure Club with fabulous indoor pool, gym. sauna, spa, solarium and beauty rooms with professional therapists on hand. They advertise that this really is the ideal place to stay and enjoy a relaxing, peaceful and leisurely weekend break. I'll tell you my opinion of that on day 5!

Considering we had phoned the hotel one hour prior to our arrival, check in was a shambles! But after a swift kick up the derrière of the duty manager by Lorraine, the situation was soon dealt with and our passengers, after a complimentary cup of coffee, were soon off to their rooms. I was pleased with my room and I took the opportunity of a couple of hours to myself to have a quick kip! After all, I'd had such a hard day!

Dinner this evening was very tasty with a good choice of menu although the service could have been quicker. After dinner, our group started to drift through to the lounge for coffee or go for a walk, or some retired to their rooms for the night. Lorraine and I stayed chatting in the restaurant. There was a gentleman eating alone who Lorraine had been eyeing up earlier and she had noticed that he'd not been getting through his bottle of wine very quickly. She said to me, "he's still got half a bottle of wine left, we could help him with that!" He heard her and smiled. I had to tell her he'd heard and she got embarrassed, which is a rare thing for Lorraine! He still didn't offer us any of his wine though!

I went off to my room shortly after 9 and had a long soak in the bath. I'm feeling quite relaxed and I think it's going to be a good few days.

Day 2

The alarm went off at 7:30 this morning and I kept pressing the snooze button until 8am! Got showered and dressed in a rush because I was due at breakfast at 8:30. I was 15 mins late when I walked in the restaurant. There was no sign of Lorraine and only 3 of our passengers. This was very odd. It was nearly 9am, the busiest time for breakfast but no one was here. I went back out to the lounge to see if Lorraine had already eaten and had moved there. No sign of anyone. The news was on the TV and the time showing was 7:45. That was when I realised I'd not changed my clock since coming back from Holland last week and I was, in fact, an hour early! That's another hour I could have had in bed! Instead, I took my time over the wide variety of breakfast on offer and if I'm honest, pigged out a bit!

Today's excursion is to Winchester. Winchester is a historic city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire. Winchester developed from the Roman town of Venta Belgarum, which developed from an Iron Age oppidum. Winchester's major landmark is Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, with the distinction of having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe. We had a guided tour of the cathedral upon our arrival in the city.

Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint Swithun, it is the seat of the Bishop of Winchester and centre of the Diocese of Winchester. The cathedral is a Grade I listed building.

Swithun was an Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester and subsequently patron saint of Winchester Cathedral. His historical importance as bishop is overshadowed by his reputation for posthumous miracle-working. According to tradition, the weather on his feast day (15 July) will continue for forty days. The precise meaning and origin of Swithin's name is unknown, but it is largely considered to mean 'Pig Man'. Another possible meaning is "strong".

After our tour, we had free time here for the rest of the day. After a quick shop for essentials and a caffeine fix, Lorraine and I headed for the castle. 


Winchester Castle is a medieval building which was founded in 1067. Only the Great Hall still stands; it houses a 
museum of the history of Winchester. Between 1222–1235, Henry III (who was born at Winchester Castle) added the Great Hall, built to a "double cube" design. The Great Hall is built of flint with stone dressings; originally it had lower walls and a roof with dormer windows. In their place were added the tall two-light windows with early plate tracery. Extensions to the castle were made by Edward II. In 1873 the roof of the Great Hall was completely replaced.

An imitation Arthurian Round Table hangs in the Great Hall. The table was originally constructed in the 13th century, and repainted in its present form for Henry VIII; around the edge of the table are the names of King Arthur's knights.

Behind the Great Hall is a re-creation of a medieval garden called Queen Eleanor's Garden. We walked through the small but pretty garden and out the back gate where we saw signs for the Military Museums. Neither of us knew these existed, so we went to have a look.

Winchester, once capital of ancient England, has had strong links to the military since Roman times. Peninsula Barracks houses museums of five of the British Army’s famous regiments. 

The Westgate Museum is housed in one of the remaining medieval fortified gateways, in the care of the Winchester Museums Service, with portcullis slot and early gunports. A debtors’ prison for 150 years, with walls covered in prisoners’ graffiti. Children’s quizzes, childsize replica armour, hands-on activities and brass rubbing.

Winchester’s Military Museums is a grouping of five military museums situated within yards of each other on an historic site close to the city centre of Winchester and adjacent to the Great Hall.

The five museums are:

Each museum is separately run but there is an opportunity to visit all of them and enjoy an interesting ‘day out’.

Additionally, there is a WMM Visitor’s Centre. There is also an information display in the same building as The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum about The Rifles, the largest infantry regiment in the British Army, formed in 2007 from a merger of The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, The Light Infantry and The Royal Green Jackets.

Three of the museums – Horsepower, The Royal Green Jackets and Gurkha museums – charge for admission. The other two are free entry. Having said that, we managed free entry into them all because of 'research' purposes and we wanted to see if it would be worth while to bring a group here and because we're good at blagging it!

We left Winchester at 3pm and had a very pretty scenic drive back to our hotel on one of my 'B' road specials through the Hampshire countryside, which looked gorgeous in the sunshine.

We had a pleasant though uneventful evening, until towards the end of dinner when a couple came into the restaurant. The 'lady' (I use the term loosely!) was so drunk that she had to be held upright by her partner and placed in her chair at the table. The hotel staff were embarrassed by the state of them and everyone was commenting how disgraceful it was to behave in such a manner in a 'classy' 4* hotel! We retired to the lounge and so luckily, didn't have to suffer their bad manners and dirty mouths for too long. There was a couple at a table across from us with their back to me who were moving together for a photo. I could see the camera lens between them and so I was obviously in the shot although in the background. I couldn't help myself. They got photo bombed! I'd stuck my tongue out for their picture! It wasn't long after that I disappeared to my room where I was planning to get back my hour I had lost this morning!

Day 3

I had got the time right this morning so I did have a leisurely start. We left the hotel at 10am for our visit to the Jane Austin House Museum in the little village of Chawton, not far from Alton.

In 1809, Mrs Austen, Cassandra, Jane and Martha Lloyd moved to Chawton. Here they lived in the former bailiff's house on the Chawton estate. The estate had been left to Jane's brother Edward, who had been adopted by a wealthy childless cousin of their father's.

It was Jane's last home, where she lived with her mother and sister Cassandra from 1809 until 1817. The rooms on show include the drawing room, and the parlour where Jane wrote on the small round table. Upstairs is her bedroom with the patchwork quilt she made with her mother and sister.There are four other rooms, one of which has memorabilia of her two brothers, Frank and Charles, who both had distinguished careers in the Royal Navy. Another room houses a period costume display.

The Jane Austin House Museum is housed in the charming red-brick 17th century house, listed in the National Archives as a building of historic interest Chawton House Library.

We spent an hour and a half here, moved on to a local garden centre to grab some lunch, then headed for Alton Railway Station where we were booked for a return journey on the Mid Hants Railway 'Watercress Line'.

The Watercress Line, operates steam and heritage diesel trains between the picturesque market towns of Alton and Alresford. As well as standard travel this preserved railway runs popular special events throughout the year along with Countryman and Watercress Belle dining trains and the Real Ale Train. There are no special events running today so we are just having a leisurely journey and an ice cream.

NeweWatercress Line, operates steam and heritage diesel trains between the picturesque market towns of Alton and Alresford. As well as standard travel this preserved railway runs popular special events throughout the year along with Countryman and Watercress Belle dining trains and the Real Ale Train. Today there were no special events on, we were just having a relaxing ride and an ice creamThe No. 925 Cheltenham, retired in 1962, was famous for being the most powerful steam train of its type to run in the UK and carried around 700 people a journey as a passenger train. 

The No. 925 Cheltenham, retired in 1962, was famous for being the most powerful steam train of its type to run in the UK and carried around 700 people a journey as a passenger train. 

After an extensive 18-month restoration project, the magnificent engine was the first Schools Class train to steam in half a century at Eastleigh Rail Works. 

The 67-ton monster that has capacity for six tonnes of coal, came home to Eastleigh, near Southampton after being built their in 1934.

With its malachite green bodywork buffed and pistons polished, Britain's rarest steam train has been chugging back on to the rails since 2012 after 50 years.

Our round trip lasted 1 3/4hrs. We got back on the coach and had another B road special, scenic drive home through the countryside.

Day 4

This morning we had a slightly earlier start, leaving the hotel at 9:30am. Our first visit today was to the Basingstoke Canal where we were booked for a 2hr canal boat trip, which in such beautiful weather will be lovely.

The Basingstoke Canal is a British canal, completed in 1794, built to connect Basingstoke with the River Thames at Weybridge via the Wey Navigation.

From Basingstoke, the canal passes through or near GreywellNorth WarnboroughOdiham, DogmersfieldFleetFarnborough Airfield,AldershotMytchettBrookwoodKnaphill and Woking. Its eastern end is at Byfleet, where it connects to the Wey Navigation. This, in turn, leads to the River Thames at Weybridge. Its intended purpose was to allow boats to travel from the docks in East London to Basingstoke.

It was never a commercial success and, from 1950, lack of maintenance allowed the canal to become increasingly derelict. After many years of neglect, restoration commenced in 1977 and on 10 May 1991 the canal was reopened as a fully navigable waterway from the River Wey to almost as far as the Greywell Tunnel. However its usage is currently still limited by low water supply and conservation issues.

As the guardian of the Basingstoke Canal, the Basingstoke Canal Society promotes and campaigns for the sustainable future of the Canal as a navigation. Through the John Pinkerton Canal Cruises operation, it also raises money which is used to fund maintenance and improvement works undertaken by Society voluntary work parties.

Today, we were joining the boat at Odiham and we were going on a round trip to Odiham Castle.

Odiham Castle (also known locally as King John's Castle) is a ruined castle situated near Odiham. It is one of only three fortresses built by King John during his reign. In 1215 it was from either Odiham or Windsor that King John rode out to Runnymede where he met the barons and signed the Magna Carta. A year later Odiham Castle was captured by the French after a two-week siege during the First Barons' War in 1216. The garrison of just 13 surrendered on July 9 1216. At some point over the next 9 years the keep was completely rebuilt possibly due to the damage done to it by the French forces. At the same time the mound on which the keep sat was raised by 5 meters and an inner moat surrounding the keep was added to the defenses.

Odiham Castle might have become one of the most important strongholds in England. In 1238 Simon de Montfort married King John's daughter Eleanor just two years after she had been granted Odiham by her brother,King Henry III. In the following year a kitchen was added on a bridge over the inner moat and a new hall was added on the outside of the keep. During the same period a second building was constructed over the moat this time on the south eastern side of the keep to provide extra living space.

In 1263 De Monfort rebelled against Henry and died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and Eleanor was exiled. Odiham Castle was again retained by the Crown.

The castle was also involved in the rebellion led by the powerful Despenser family against Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella of France, the wife of Edward II.

During the fourteenth century Odiham hosted Parliament. Scottish King David II, after his capture at the Battle of Neville's Cross  in 1346, was also imprisoned here for 11 years. However he was held under light guard and was allowed to keep a household. Using the castle as a prison seems to have been common practice during the 13th and 14th centuries with the nearby Manor of Greywell required to provide guards one night in three.

By the 15th century Odiham was used only as a hunting-lodge. In 1605 the former royal castle was described as a ruin.

In 1792 the Basingstoke Canal was built through the southern corner of the bailey.

Our next visit today was to Milestones Museum. It is made up of a network of streets that have been recreated on those found in Victorian and 1930s Hampshire. 

There is also a large collection of road vehicles, notably by Thornycroft and Taskers of Andover.

Personally, I think the best of this museum was outside where, today, there was a vintage MG Y-Type Salloons rally. I didn't find the museum very interesting at all but all the locals we'd spoken to had said how good it is. I spent the time sat on the grass in the sun, topping up the tan!

We arrived back at the hotel at 3:30pm where I spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool,

until the kids turned up, when I enjoyed a glass of wine on the sun lounger in the garden.

It was another uneventful evening and everyone had gone to bed even earlier than usual because they have all their packing to do, ready for going home tomorrow.

Day 5

I had all good intentions for this morning. I was going to go for a swim before breakfast but decided on having the extra half an hour in bed instead. It was another beautiful day and was forecast to be hotter here than Ibiza. 

I loaded the luggage and we left at 10am. We had a pretty drive to Windsor where we were staying for several hours. It is widely known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal FamilyIt is immediately south of the River Thames, which forms its boundary with Eton. The village of Old Windsor, just over 2 miles (3 km) to the south, predates what is now called Windsor by around 300 years; in the past Windsor was formally referred to as New Windsor to distinguish the two. The early history of the site is unknown, although the site may have been settled many years before the medieval castle was built as there is ample evidence of Anglo Saxon settlement in the area.

Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen.  Its rich history spans almost 1000 years.

The Castle covers an area of about 5 hectares (13 acres) and contains

• Magnificent State Apartments furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection
• St George's Chapel (one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England and the burial place of 10 monarchs)
• Queen Mary's Dolls House, a masterpiece in miniature
• The Drawings Gallery featuring an exhibition (see below for current display).

During the winter months an additional five rooms, known collectively as the Semi-State Rooms, are included in the visitor route. 

The Queen was in residence today with the Royal Standard flying. 

Many of our passengers went on a short 40min boat trip on the Thames, some went on the city sightseeing bus and others had a leisurely lunch and a walk around Eton and along the river.

We left Windsor at 2:30pm, homeward bound. Everyone has said how much they have enjoyed the whole trip. It's been a very relaxing few days. Another good job done! 😊